SPORT AND SOCIETY BROADCAST FOR FRIDAY JANUARY 3, 1997
By the time you hear this commentary the bowls will be over, someone may or may not be a clear choice as number one, and someone may even care. Not being able to deal with this, the most important issue of our time, I will turn my attention elsewhere.
As we enter the new year I want to pause and look back on some of the stories that attracted my attention during the past year in sportsworld, where the improbable has become commonplace and the marketing of illusions has run riot. Looking back over the forty-plus Sport and Society pieces I have done in the past year I am struck by the variety, the drama, and the sleaze that is represented therein.
From the standpoint of the local Orlando scene the biggest story was the departure of Shaquille O'Neal. I was convinced that the Big Guy would not leave, and that he would be content to remain with Penny Hardaway and create an NBA dynasty that might become a worthy successor to Michael and the Bulls. I was wrong, as Shaq preferred to join the Lakers and fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in L.A., perhaps feeling that Penny or someone of that caliber may eventually join him in L.A. to build a dynasty there.
Death is always a moment for reflection and especially when it comes to someone who still has much to give. The death of Jerry Richardson, the woman's basketball coach at the University of Central Florida who was an inspiration to all those who knew him here and during his time serving the Navajo Nation in Shiprock, New Mexico, provided one such painful moment.
There were a number of other deaths that caught my attention, from the recent passing of Pete Rozelle and the significance of his career for the business of sport and the rise of the NFL, to the death of Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder who parlayed very little into major sports celebrity. The passing of John McSherry was both a sobering moment and one that allowed Marge Schott to disgrace herself, while that of Charles O. Finley, brought back many memories of recent baseball history. The end of Kirby Puckett's career provided another kind of reflection on the fragile character of life.
As always there were any number of marvelous stories from both the past and present which illustrate the best qualiities of sport. The anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first spring training in Florida revealed the story of former Met Ed Charles finding inspiration in Daytona as a child watching Jackie play baseball in the segregated world of Florida in the spring. The Kentucky Derby allowed me to reflect on Isaac Murphy's career as a great African American jockey at the turn of the century. The resurrecti on of the career of Mario Lemieux on his return to hockey having overcome Hodkin's disease was inspirational, as was Dwight Gooden capping his comeback with a no-hitter, not to mention the U.S. World Championship in hockey. At the Olympics the American wo men, especially Michele Akers in soccer and Dot Richardson in softball, leading their teams to gold medals, reminded us of the magic of sport even though the NBC cameras remained largely absent from the story.
The World Series had several highlights including the Joe and Frank Torre story and the look of destiny that the Yankees had during the playoffs and the Series, including the improbable twenty-four hours of glory that came to Jeffery Maier. Another emerging star at the Series was Andruw Jones who achieved prominence on the field and brought attention to the island of Curacao.
The rise of Tiger Woods, especially his third consecutive amatuer championship, caught the imagination of the nation, while the crass marketing of this new icon by Nike highlighted much of what is wrong with contemporary sport.
Also on the down side are the drug and crime reports from college campuses and the general willingness of college presidents, athletic directors, and coaches to turn a blind eye to so much of this degradation of higher education. The crass commercialism a nd the incessant and all-pervasive marketing surrounding the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series, and intercollegiate athletics especially at the bowls and the final four, all serve to trivialize sport.
There were the low moments provided by Roberto Alomar, Marge Schott, Dennis Rodman, Jerry Jones, Art Modell, NBC Sports, and boxing, to mention a few. There were the continuing antics of Donald Fehr, Jerry Reinsdorf, and Bud Lite unable to close out a baseball contract, and then the relief when it finally happened.
Always though we are drawn back by those moments and events that very nearly achieve a level of pure sport, such as the glory of Michael Johnson's double, Fatuma Roba's woman's marathon victory, or the challenge of the Ididarod.
It was a remarkable, inspiring, and depressing year. I look for more of the same over the next twelve months when the new catch phrase of the culture is likely to be "show me the money."
On Sport and Society this is Dick Crepeau reminding you that you don't have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.
Copyright 1997 by Richard C. Crepeau
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